The NBA announced Thursday that Celtics legend Bill Russell will receive the first annual Lifetime Achievement Award at the NBA Awards on TNT Monday, June 26.
Russell, who was considered the original GOAT before Michael Jordan stole the mantle, won 11 NBA Championships in his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics, coaching the team for his final three seasons in which they won titles in the last two years. Russell became the first African-American head coach in a major professional American sports league in 1966 when he was chosen by Red Auerbach to be his successor.
Russell was so great that they named the Finals MVP trophy after him. Although the award began when he won his last title in 1969 and walked off to the sunset, ironically Jerry West became the first recipient and the only player since to win on the losing team.
In addition to receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011, Russell eventually agreed to have a statue in his honor placed in City Hall Plaza in downtown Boston in 2013.
Russell was the first player to win a college title, NBA title and Olympic gold medal. He won two consecutive titles at the University of San Francisco, before winning a title as a rookie with the Celtics in 1957. He would then go on to win an unmatched seven straight titles from 1959-1966, before Auerbach retired.
He led the league in rebounding four times, and he made 11 All-NBA teams and 12 All-Star teams after missing it his rookie season. He was a five-time MVP and made the first NBA All-Defensive team in 1969. He revolutionized defense as a versatile shot-blocking force, who mastered the art of reading the offensive player and the ball to time a block or a rebound. He was acclaimed for pioneering transition basketball, seeking to tip blocks to teammates for fast breaks instead of swatting the ball into the stands.
He had the first great friendly rivalry in basketball with Wilt Chamberlain, whom he routinely beat in the playoffs en route to his record number of titles. Although Wilt had four inches on him and his stats were often better—especially in scoring—Russell became the definition of team success over individual talent. Wilt was a flamboyant pop culture icon, while Russell was reserved and focused on his craft. They were both great in their own respects, but Russell won the war in the end.
In the ultimate competitive move, when Wilt received the first contract of $100,000 in 1965, Russell then demanded a salary of $100,001. Auerbach and owner Walter Brown acquiesced.
Russell was a civil rights icon not just for blazing a trail as the first African-American head coach, but also for his outspoken attitude to combat the intense and cruel racism he encountered across the country, including in Boston.
Sporting an iconic, shrieking laugh and unforgettable goatee, Bill Russell was a pioneer and icon in so many ways in both sport and culture.